As the people of Turkey stay at home to contain the spread of Covid-19, the government is tackling the question of who will feed the country’s hundreds of thousands of stray animals.
The interior ministry has decided that the job falls to local councils nationwide, and has ordered them ‘to ” bring food and water to animal shelters , parks, gardens, and other areas where animals are found”.
The ministry insists that “all necessary measures must be taken to ensure stray animals don’t go hungry”, adding that the animals’ shelters and dens should also be disinfected.
Activists, volunteers and residents usually feed Turkey’s army of strays, but self-isolation and restrictions on movement have hit animal welfare hard.
While councils sometimes provide services for street animals , it is unusual for the central government to order such a move.
In Turkey’s largest city Istanbul , which has the most confirmed Covid-19 cases, there are some 162,970 stray cats and 128,900 dogs, according to the city’s 2018 figures.
Turkish social-media users have largely praised the move, with many thanking Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
The official Twitter account of Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district has shared photos of stray animals being fed on 5 April.
” We are with our true friends, with whom we share life …” the district said.
An animal welfare foundation in the Black Sea region has called on people over 65 who have been banned from going outside to get in touch with their district governor to help feed the animals .
Turkey has so far refrained from imposing a nationwide lockdown, and instead urges the public to stay at home.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul tweeted a photo of himself stroking a dog and saying ” we should not abandon our animal friends during these tough days”.
But not everyone appreciates the tweet, with one user telling the minister to “let the animals be… and think instead of the prisoners, because coronavirus does not distinguish between inmates “.
This is a reference to an draft law to release 90,000 prisoners on a temporary basis because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The bill, which is due for debate in parliament this week, faces criticism for excluding political prisoners, including dozens of jailed journalists.